Friday, August 12, 2016

Journey through the Investigation of Raised Bed Garden Systems


Create a journal stating the problems, solutions, and insights involving the raised bed garden systems.
The start of this journey has already turned left at the water system. The first iteration highlighted a major problem. When you build a raised bed you separate the natural soil cycle and created no more than a large, glorified flower pot. There is also a problem with watering – the norm is to water too little.  This causes the roots of the plants to grow at the surface.
Isn’t it wonderful to have a glorified pot and create a system that when you forget to water one day you have killed everything? Worry not - this is the start of the journey not the end.
To start this journey, I am going to have to take you through what I have learned of how soil acts in relationship to the plant. Please understand that this is the beginning, and as such there is value in being wrong several times until one is finally right.
Chapter One:
Soil Love It or Get Dirty:

Modified soil based Raised Bed

Normal Raised Bed


The first bed shows water in its cycle of life. This is the typical raised bed; just like the one I was going to build at first. The thickness of arrows shows how the water cycle will leach out. What I did not realize at first is that this isn’t just losing some water, but it is leaching the soil of its nutrients.
 In the cycle of soil life there are bonds that hold the world together. These bonds are bacterial and chemical in nature. Ways to break those bonds include dilution and pressure or chemically changing the PH balance. Watering is actually easier to explain if you look at it as a hydraulic press. The water pushes down and is weighted by other water behind it taking O2 into the soil, this also changes the PH in the soil. This PH influx appears to be one of the most important aspects of a healthy soil.
 When you wash a liquid through a medium that has a different PH you cause a chemical action. This is the action that nitrogen, phosphorous and others depend on. This allows the normal electrolysis or chemical reactions to occur. This is the only way that microorganisms and organics will get the nutrients’ they need.
 The problem that I have discovered is that by building the typical raised bed you are offering an off-ramp for the surface water (water applied to the surface and not given time to react with the soil) to drain out. This is one of the large problems, I suspect, seen in a green house. Water is applied to plants.  The water rushes through the plant medium and chemicals fall out as waste product and causes a bio hazard of sorts. In the raised bed, it is pressed out the sides by the weight of other water coming in.
Now that I have sounded like I am against raised beds, I’m not. One of the problems in a normal garden when you look at it as a system is that over 50% of the used surface is not in use on the top side. In field applications, rows are closed in as close as possible to stop this waste. The fields are deluged with chemicals to keep the non-used soil from growing unwanted plants and competing for nutrients. This is a never-ending battle as people weight the health concerns of too many chemicals verses the need to provide large yields.
 The best reason for a raised bed is that people tend to be lazy and with a raised bed you don’t have to bend over as much. Now, I can tell you of the spread cycle of grass and by having a raised bed you form a barrier which can help in weed control; I can tell you that by having a raised bed you have less problems with pest – they tend to stay lower and equate the raised bed as a way to be seen by predators). I could also tell you by having a raised bed your soil will heat up faster in the spring time giving the plants a boost. I would also mention that they look nice and can accent you land scape. But the main reason is when you work the raised bed it is easier.
A raised bed however is not meant to be a box sitting on surface. The raised bed is meant to be a system and that will gain more than having a garden in the ground.
Cycles of the Soil:
Nitrogen Cycle:

According to Wikipedia, the nitrogen cycle is the series of processes by which nitrogen and its compounds are inter-converted in the environment and in living organisms, including nitrogen fixation and decomposition.
That sounds great but to understand what is going on you have to explore the four cycles of nitrogen, don’t worry I will tear the others apart in a little bit.
 To understand the cycles, you have to first understand the plants problem. The atmosphere contains mostly nitrogen but in this form it really does little for the plant.
·        The plant has to get it by taking in organically. These additives go into the ground and are converted to ammonia (NH4). This is done by what is listed as mineralization. 
·        The ammonia is then changed to Nitrite (NO2). This is done by nitrification.
·        Then the nitrate (NO2) picks up an oxygen molecule. And becomes NO3 and is now nitrate
All of this sounds complicated.  Well, just think it you were a plant and had no eyes, except for a potato that is. You will just sit in the ground and follow with your roots to stuff that pleases the tummy or whatever the plant calls it. Here is your problem, you water the plant the water goes down, you only gave a little so it really literally goes straight down. The chemical and mineral interactions are dependent on that path. As you can see from the diagram there is a lot going up just as there is going down, in fact the only pure down is leaching which is another topic for later. (Hint we are going to power our house from that.)
So now for the lesson I have learn. When you water you need to WATER. The water is the conduit that the reactions use as their super highway.
Phosphorus Cycle:
Understanding the phosphorus cycle is easy. When phosphorus is found it is used and everybody is happy. Condensed down that is how the internet reads. The real jewel is there is so much about the big N people forget the big P. Phosphorus is usually found in the ground not the atmosphere. It moves slowly through the soil but quickly through the plant. The big P is what gives the plant strength. This element is the structural building block for the plant, N gets it going and P makes it strong enough to survive.
 So what you need to be thinking is if you are going to have a raised bed and have an essential element like phosphorus that moves like a slow turtle what are you going to do? The other part is your harvest. The chart has a mistake in that it does not show how much your loss from plant removal compared to the other losses. Your soil is a bank for good or bad and what you remove is gone and what you leave may kill your crop.

Potassium Cycle:

The big K is interesting. It is the fuel that gets the plant to work. It is a volatile element (Number 19 on the periodic table) and is needed by plants and animals.  It’s pretty well needed by anything that lives. Potassium is lost by runoff and leaching; something that is needed to be remembered during the build and is found readily in potash. Now the potassium comes from fertilize and bio nutrients. They are lost by erosion and the removal of plants from the soil and a course that dreaded leaching. K that is in the soil can be captured by clay particles and bound. (The real interesting part of this) the plant takes K and lets it get captured the clay but when it does they are unbound and can be used by the plant as needed.
One of the other little tidbits is that some clays soil opens up when dried releasing K. There are other clay soils that open up when wet. So to say “Let the soil dry it is good for the Cation exchange” is true but also “Water heavy soak that clay to get the K out” is also true. I think K should be in politics.

 So to summarize simply Nitrogen sets how big Phosphorus sets how strong and Potassium regulates how smooth everything works.

Here is the start of what we explored this summer. More to come. Thanks to Wiki for some diagrams